CAMPAIGNERS hoping to prevent the downgrading of services at a Yorkshire hospital have been given a glimmer of hope.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has agreed the proposals for changes to the Friarage Hospital, in Northallerton, should be reviewed by an independent panel.
Mr Hunt was asked to intervene by North Yorkshire County Council’s scrutiny of health committee.
Chairman Jim Clark said: “We were afraid that the Secretary of State might have refused to refer the proposals, on the grounds that they have already been examined once by the panel.
“But the fact that he has done so as a result of our representations is extremely gratifying.
“And the fact that he has asked the Panel to carry out the initial assessment within little more than a month is an indication that he believes this to be a matter of some urgency.”
The Health Secretary has asked the NHS Independent Reconfiguration Panel to make an initial judgement by May 15.
Plans to downgrade services at the Friarage Hospital have met with considerable local protest with Mr Hunt’s cabinet colleague, William Hague, the MP for Richmond, among those expressing concern.
If the proposals go ahead, the current consultant-led maternity service at the Friarage would be replaced by a midwife-led operation.
The change would mean pregnant women in this largely rural area would have to travel to other hospitals as far away as Darlington or Middlesbrough.
Proposals for changes at the Friarage were first aired in 2011 and in February this year it was confirmed they will be implemented in October.
Hambleton, Richmondshire and Whitby Clinical Commissioning Group has said the relatively low number of births at the hospital mean it is difficult to justify having doctors with the sklls needed to cope with complex deliveries.